Review: Toyota Prius (2009 – 2016)


Low CO2 emissions and zero car tax. Spacious cabin makes it a realistic family car. Plug-In version escaped London Congestion Charge.

Not so efficient for long distances at motorway speeds where some diesel cars still beat it. Feels strained when accelerating hard, especially uphill. Thefts of catalytic converters reported.

Toyota Prius (2009 – 2016): At A Glance

The third generation Toyota Prius was not only the best Prius yet - it's was also the best hybrid car on the market in 2009 and made its main rival - the Honda Insight - look distinctly second rate. There were some key improvements over the previous model but perhaps the biggest endorsement of the Toyota Prius is that it doesn't actualy feel like a hybrid to drive. That may sound strange, but the fact this car is so normal is its key strength. It means you don't have to make compromises to own one.

The hybrid system has been upgraded but the basic principle remains the same. There's a petrol engine - in this case a 1.8-litre unit with 98bhp - along with an electric motor which adds a further 36bhp giving the Prius a more than adequate 134bhp altogether. The electric motor can drive the car on its own at up to around 30mph, when the petrol engine takes over as well as providing extra boost to the combustion engine when needed, for stronger performance.

The electric motor is in turn powered by high-performance batteries which are charged during deceleration and braking, so the system is self-contained. The result of this clever system is an economy figure of 72.4mpg while CO2 emissions are just 89g/km, meaning the Prius is peanuts to run. The fact it's a proper five-door hatch means it's a realistic family car too - not some weird and wonderful model - and there's plenty of space for those in the back, plus a larger boot than a Volkswagen Golf.

It's rerasonable to drive too with the CVT automatic gearbox making for smooth progress. It feels lively when you want it to, but will happily cruise along. However the Atkinson cycle engine and CVT trandsmission mean if you press the accelerator pedal hard it can feel strained and quite noisy - it's far happier in relaxed driving. The motorway isn't the natural environment for hybrids, here the benefits over a diesel are eroded, but the Prius is smooth at 70mph and quiet too.

A Prius Plug-in model followed in 2012, which functions as an electric vehicle on short trips and as a conventional hybrid on longer distances. What sets it apart is its use of a lithium-ion battery. This offers greater capacity, giving it a longer range in electric mode at speeds up to 62mph. It also has a battery charging function so you can fully recharge it from an ordinary electricity supply, in less than two hours. And the plug-in Prius remains London Congestion Charge  exempt even after the limit was lowered to 75g/km.

What does a Toyota Prius (2009 – 2016) cost?

List Price from £24,245
Buy new from £21,431
Contract hire from £227.26 per month

Toyota Prius (2009 – 2016): What's It Like Inside?

Length 4480 mm
Width -
Height 1490 mm
Wheelbase 2700 mm

Full specifications

The interior of the Prius echoes the sharper shape of the outside. The facia, centrally mounted, digital instrument cluster and especially the centre console, are now all rather rakish. On costlier versions there is also a head up display that reflects what the dash is doing on the bottom right hand corner of the windscreen, and works very well.

Space wise the cabin will comfortably seat five, although the cars substantial battery pack and control systems mean that the boot is somewhat shallow, however luggage space can be usefully extended by collapsing the rear seats backrests. As with much of the cars detail design, these are simple to use and nicely thought out. Rather than traditional dials, there's a digital display in the middle of the dash top. This shows your speed and fuel level but can also be set to display the Eco Drive Monitor - a useful bar that illustrates when the battery is being charged and how efficiently you're driving. There's also a past record display which shows you how efficient your recent driving has beem - bettering it can become quite addictive.

A new head-up display is fitted as standard on all models. This projects key information onto the base of the windscreen so it can be read by the driver without taking your eyes off the road. As well as speed and the eco drive display, it also shows navigation turn-by-turn details (if sat nav is fitted). The display can be adjusted for height and brightness, or can be switched off altogether.

One favourite feature are the 'touch tracer' switches which are touch-sensitive controls mounted on the steering wheel that let you operate functions without having to look down or take your hands off the wheel. As you touche the top of the switch, a display is automatically illuminated on the centre panel - an amber highlight moves in line with your fingertip to the function you want, which can then be selected by pressing the switch.

In the middle of the dash there's a central ‘bridge' that puts the gearshift close to the driver's hand and also creates a large lower storage area. There is also a full colour multi-information display screen, with controls for the air conditioning, audio system and satellite navigation. All models have automatic air conditioning as standard plus there's an optional solar powered ventilation system available on T Spirit versions. This stops the cabin getting too hot when the car is parked and includes a remote control function that switches on the air con system for three minutes, cooling down the cabin before you get in.

There's plenty of room in the Prius - it's longer than a Toyota Auris and makes a good family car thanks to a large boot that has a wide load floor and low bootlip. There's more boot space than a Volkswagen Golf and the rear seats have the usual 60/40 split and also fold flat, creating a long area for items such as bikes. There's a handy underfloor storage tray which is ideal for things that will otherwise slide about while in the front there's good storage including a split-level glovebox and a large central bin between the seats.

Equipment from launch (August 2009):

T3 is the entry-level model and has a head-up display, projecting key vehicle data on to the windscreen in the driver's eyeline, Toyota's new Touch Tracer multi-function control on the steering wheel, smart entry (driver's door) and start, seven airbags including a driver's knee airbag, heated door mirrors, front fog lamps, automatic air conditioning, electric windows, 15-inch alloy wheels and a CD stereo.

T4 adds 17-inch alloy wheels,keyless entry on all doors, Bluetooth, an eight-speaker audio system and rain-sensing wipers.

T Spirit is the top model and comes with a HDD (hard disk drive) navigation system and music library plus park assist with a rear parking camera.

Child seats that fit a Toyota Prius (2009 – 2016)

Our unique Car Seat Chooser shows you which child car seats will fit this car and which seat positions that they will fit, so that you don't have to check every car seat manufacturer's website for compatibility.

Which car seat will suit you?

What's the Toyota Prius (2009 – 2016) like to drive?

The previous Prius had a reputation for being rather joyless to drive. This one isn't a barrel of laughs, but it's thoroughly capable, with precise, accurate steering and decent riding characteristics from a familiar suspension system that allows this car to be punted tidily through tight corners and rarely becomes flustered, even on poor surfaces. The Prius might not have the dynamic poise of a Ford Focus, but it's now unobtrusively competent.

You might be surprised that its petrol engine is a hefty 1800cc four-cylinder unit, replacing a 1.5 that sometimes had to work hard for its living. The new motor pulls cleanly and smoothly, and at motorway speeds seems not especially stressed, something critics of the old Prius said was a bit of a weakness.

There are all sorts of clever efficiency aids, from an electric water pump, exhaust gas re-circulating and cooling and even a solar powered air con system - the latter claimed to be a world first, but only available on costlier versions of the car. Performance-wise, the Prius will get to 62mph in just over 10 seconds, and is capable of 112mph - the electric motor can manage up to 31mph. Toyota is claiming a combined mpg of up to 72.4mpg and although real world economy is unlikely to hit these levels, owners of the outgoing Prius reported near 60mpg returns and this one should be better still

As for emissions, the Prius puts out 89g/km of CO2 - better than the 99g/km boasted by the stop/start 1.6 litre, diesel-only Ford Focus ECOnetic and Volkswagen Golf BlueMotion, but these car are claimed to be marginally more fuel efficient, are both simpler and cheaper, and you can expect them to become ever more efficient.

The Toyota drives like a conventional, two-pedal automatic and its continuously variable transmission goes about its business in a low-key, jerk-free manner. This applies to the switch from electric to petrol drive, and the engine stop/start system, which is lighter and more compact than before. The car can seamlessly slip from near-silent, electric city trundling, which is thoroughly relaxing and one of its best features, to petrol power. Likewise steering and brake inputs remain consistent whatever is making the car work. It's all clever stuff, that works well, and the system itself has proved tough and long lived, with Prius taxis clocking up very big mileages without anything going awry.

Overall, the latest version represents a big step forward dynamically over its predecessor. Anyone flogging up and down motorways might still think a modern diesel would make more sense, as the Prius would spend much of its time lugging all its clever electric bits rather than using them for motive power. But around town it works very well and is a civilised, stress-reducing companion, as well as a bit of a lifestyle statement.

There are three driving 'modes' in the Prius. From start-up and at speeds of less than 31mph the Prius automatically operates in EV mode, using its electric motor power alone. The driver can also select EV mode manually, with the driving range dictated by the level of battery charge. In urban motoring it works with minimal noise and zero emissions and as the petrol engine is switched off in EV mode, it contributes to a significant reduction in overall fuel consumption.

In ECO mode, throttle response to aggressive accelerator pedal inputs is reduced and the air conditioning control is adjusted for improved fuel economy. Depending on the actual driving conditions, ECO mode can help drivers achieve a 10 to 15 per cent reduction in fuel consumption. Finally there's POWER mode - admittedly a bit of a contradiction for a car designed to be eco-friendly - which modifies response to throttle inputs, boosting power to improve acceleration and give greater driving pleasure.

Engine MPG 0-62 CO2
1.8 VVT-i 71–72 mpg 10.4 s 89–92 g/km
Plug-In Hybrid 135 mpg 11.3 s 49 g/km

Real MPG average for a Toyota Prius (2009 – 2016)

Real MPG was created following thousands of readers telling us that their cars could not match the official figures.

Real MPG gives real world data from drivers like you to show how much fuel a vehicle really uses.

Average performance


Real MPG

43–131 mpg

MPGs submitted


Diesel or petrol? If you're unsure whether to go for a petrol or diesel (or even an electric model if it's available), then you need our Petrol or Diesel? calculator. It does the maths on petrols, diesels and electric cars to show which is best suited to you.

What have we been asked about the Toyota Prius (2009 – 2016)?

Every day we're asked hundreds of questions from car buyers and owners through Ask Honest John. Our team of experts, including the nation's favourite motoring agony uncle - Honest John himself - answer queries and conudrums ranging from what car to buy to how to care for it as an owner. If you could do with a spot of friendly advice before buying you're next car, get in touch and we'll do what we can to help.

Ask HJ

What's the most economical automatic for £7k?

Can you recommend a five-door, five-seat automatic that gives 45mpg + and is quite cheap to tax? Small to medium size car. Budget is £7000
How about a Honda Insight? It's a hybrid capable of returning more than 50mpg in the real world ( while tax will be £10 a year. Your budget will get you a good example from 2011. The Toyota Prius will do a similar job for similar money. Alternatively, if you'd prefer something more conventional, consider a Suzuki Swift or, if you cover lots of miles, a diesel Kia Cee'd.
Answered by Andrew Brady
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